The Chess Variant Pages

Nova Chess

by Michael Howe, 12/28/03

The origins of Nova Chess go back to the 1980s when I first became interested in designing chess variants with unorthodox pieces. The game was revised and expanded and a large number of variant pieces were added in the process of adapting it to Zillions. There currently are versions of Nova Chess for the 64-square board and for the 100-square board. I acknowledge the following games as influential on Nova Chess: Freeling's Grand Chess; Betza's Unequal Armies and Chess with Different Armies; Turkish Great Chess; Schmittberger's Generalized Chess; Abbott's Ultima; Parton's 2000 A.D.; Merry's Zip Chess; Xiang Qi; Changgi.

In over-the-board play, the goal of Nova Chess is to mate the opposing king. Both checkmate and stalemate are wins. A threefold repetition of a given board position is a draw.

In the Zillions implementation, there is no check or mate; the goal of the game is to capture the opposing king, and if you expose your king and it is captured, you lose. The reason for doing this is to make certain features possible in the ZRF that would not be possible if the goal was mate because of the way Zillions looks for check.

Castling has been eliminated. A new en passant rule has been adopted so that unorthodox pawns can be used in the variants. No pawn may cross an empty square on which it could be captured by an opposing pawn. This rule makes variants pawns such as the zip pawn (with a vertical forward noncapturing rook move) playable, and it eliminates the need for a separate en passant rule for each pair of pawn types.

In over-the-board play, players can use any cooperative or random method to determine the piece sets and arrays, subject to the following constraints:

NovaChess 64

In Nova Chess 64, players can choose an 8-piece game, a 10-piece game, or a 12-piece game.

In the standard 8-piece game, each player has one king, one piece from either the "queen," "marshal," or "cardinal" families, and two pieces each from the "rook," "bishop," and "knight" families. All pieces start on the first rank, with pawns on the second rank. The starting array is symmetrical left to right, with the king and the combination piece forming the fourth symmetry pair. The two players' arrays are symmetrical by rotation (i.e., a1 identical to h8). (The quotation marks indicate that the words are being used to refer to a piece classification and not necessarily to a traditional chess piece.)

In the standard 10-piece game, each player has one king, one "queen," one "marshal," one "cardinal," and two pieces each from the "rook," "bishop," and "knight" families. King, "marshal," "cardinal," and "queen" start on the first rank; "knight," "bishop," and "rook" start on the remaining first rank squares and on the second ranks squares on the b/g, c/f, or d/e files. Pawns start on the third rank. The starting array is symmetrical left to right, with the king/"queen" and "marshal"/"cardinal" forming symmetry pairs. The two players' arrays are symmetrical by rotation.

In the standard 12-piece game, each player has one king, one "queen," one "marshal," one "cardinal," two pieces each from the "rook," "bishop," and "knight" families, and one additional pair from either the "rook," "bishop," or "knight" families, although the additional pair is restricted to some extent so that the most powerful members of the family are not overrepresented. King, "marshal," "cardinal," and "queen" start on the first rank; "knight," "bishop," and "rook" start on the remaining first rank squares and on the second ranks squares on the b/g, c/f, or d/e files. Pawns start on the third rank. The starting array is symmetrical left to right, with the king/"queen" and "marshal"/"cardinal" forming symmetry pairs. The two players' arrays are symmetrical by rotation.

In the extended 8-piece game, the combination piece is replaced by a piece from the extended piece set.

In the extended 10-piece game, each player has one king, one piece from the extended piece set, and two different combination pieces from the "queen," "marshal," or "cardinal" families.

In the extended 12-piece game, the additional pair of pieces comes from the extended piece set and starts on the first rank.

NovaChess100

In Nova Chess 100, players can choose a 14-piece game or a 16-piece game.

In the standard 14-piece game, each player has one king, one "queen," one "marshal," one "cardinal," and two pieces each from the "rook" and "bishop" families, one pair of knights or singly-augmented "knights," one pair of doubly-augmented "knights," and one pair from the "guard" family (which includes count, duke, monk, and pikeman). King, "marshal," "cardinal," and "queen" start on the first rank; "knights," "bishop," "rook," and "guard" start on the remaining first rank squares and on the second ranks squares on the b/i, c/h, d/g, or e/f files. Pawns start on the third rank. The starting array is symmetrical left to right, with the king/"queen" and "marshal"/"cardinal" forming symmetry pairs. The two players' arrays are symmetrical by rotation.

In the standard 16-piece game, each player has one king, one "queen," one "marshal," one "cardinal," and two pairs of pieces each from the "rook," "knight," and "bishop" families, although the additional pair is restricted to some extent so that the most powerful members of the family are not overrepresented. King, "marshal," "cardinal," and "queen" start on the first rank; "knights," "bishop," and "rook," start on the remaining first rank squares and on the second ranks squares on the b/i, c/h, d/g, or e/f files. Pawns start on the third rank. The starting array is symmetrical left to right, with the king/"queen" and "marshal"/"cardinal" forming symmetry pairs. The two players' arrays are symmetrical by rotation.

In the extended 14-piece game, the "guards" are replaced by two single pieces from the extended piece set.

In the extended 16-piece game, two additional single pieces from the extended piece set are added to extended 14-piece game.

Pawns

In all games, pawns can be othodox, extended, or omni. The extended pawn set includes unorthodox pawns that are always forward-oriented. The omni pawn set includes unorthodox pawns that move and capture in all directions.

Pawns that on the second rank in the 64-square game, or on the third rank of the 100-square board can double step in any foward direction in which they would normally be able to move. A special en passant rule applies: a pawn cannot cross a square on which it could be captured by an opposing pawn. This rule applies to all pawn moves over the entire board. All pawns promote to dragon on the last rank.

Using Zillions of Games

To start a game of Nova Chess, just double-click the NovaChessStart.zrf file. A series of screens will appear listing options for: board size; standard or extended piece sets; and orthodox, extended, or omni pawns.

Pieces

The pieces move and capture as explained below, using references to orthodox chess pieces and to well-known variant pieces for clarity. For those unfamiliar with the variant pieces to which I refer, definitions can be found below. The pieces are organized into two groups: the Nova Chess pieces, which are used in all versions of Nova Chess, and the extended pieces, which are used only in the extended variants. Note that many of the Nova Chess pieces do not currently appear in any of the fixed arrays in the ZRFs. Players are encouraged to make new arrays incorporating these pieces, and additional ZRFs can be provided in the future.

The Standard Pieces:

Adjutant: moves and captures as F, W, or V.

Admiral: moves and captures as W, N, B, or V.

Archbishop: moves and captures as B or W.

Bailiff: moves as W, B, or V; captures as F, W, or V.

Baron: moves as F or R; captures as F, R, or P.

Bishop: orthodox bishop.

Captain: moves as F, N, or R; captures as F, W, N, or P.

Cardinal: moves and captures as B or a N.

Carronade: moves as R; captures as R or P.

Castle: moves and captures as R or a F.

Cavalier: moves and captures as N or W.

Centaur: moves and captures as B, N, or W.

Champion: moves and captures as N, F, or W.

Chancellor: moves and captures as R, N, or F.

Chief: moves and captures as F, R, or P

Colonel: moves and captures as N, R, or P.

Commander: moves and captures as N, B, or V.

Constable: moves as F, R, or P; captures as F, W, or R.

Cougar: moves as Q or L; captures as Q.

Count: moves one or two squares as Q.

Culverin: moves and captures as F, W, or P.

Dean: moves as B or V; captures as B.

Dragon: moves and captures as Q, L, or N.

Duchess: moves and captures as F, W, or L.

Duke: moves and captures as W, F, D, or A.

Earl: moves as F, W, or L; captures as Q.

Empress: moves and captures as Q or N.

Fusilier: moves and captures as N or F.

General: moves and captures as F, N, R, or P.

Grenadier: moves as F, R, or P; captures as F or R.

Griffin: moves as F, W, or L; captures as Q or L.

Jaguar: moves as Q or L; captures as F, W, or L.

King: orthodox king.

Knight (N): orthodox knight

Legate: moves as F, W, or V; captures as W or B.

Leo (L): not a game piece, but an element used to define game pieces. A leo travels like a Q, but must hop over exactly one unit of either color en route to its destination square.

Leopard: moves as Q; captures as F, W, or L.

Lictor: moves as B; captures as B or V.

Lieutenant: moves and captures as N, F, W, or V.

Lioness: moves as Q; captures as Q or L.

Magistrate: moves as W or V; captures as W or B.

Marquis: moves and captures as N, A, or D

Marshal: moves and captures as R or N.

Master: moves and captures as W, B, or V.

Monk: moves and captures as F, W, or A.

Officer: moves as F, W, or P; captures as F or P.

Paladin: moves and captures as N, A, or W

Pao (P): not a game piece, but an element used to define game pieces. A pao travels like a R, but must hop over exactly one unit of either color en route to its destination square.

Pikeman: moves as F, W, or D.

Prince: moves and captures as N, F, or D

Provost: moves as F, W, or B; captures as F, W, B, or V.

Queen (Q): orthodox queen.

Rector: moves as B or W; captures as F, W, or V.

Reeve: moves and captures as R or P.

Rook (R): orthodox rook.

Sergeant: moves as F, W, or P; captures as F, R, or P.

Sphinx: moves and captures as Q or L.

Turret: moves as R or F; captures as F, W, or P.

Vao (V): not a game piece, but an element used to define game pieces. A vao travels like a B, but must hop over exactly one unit of either color en route to its destination square.

Veteran: moves and captures as F, W, or P.

Vizier: moves as W or B; captures as W, B, or V.

Warden: moves and captures as B or V.

Variant piece descriptions:

Alfil (A): two squares diagonally, leaping over the first square.
Dabbaba (D): two squares horizontally or vertically, leaping over the first square.
Ferz (F): one square diagonally
Wazir (W): one square horizontally or vertically

The Extended Pieces:

Ambassador: moves like range-2 queen to empty squares; converts opposing units one and/or two squares away by short-jumping them to the square immediately beyond; the jump can therefore actually end up to three squares away. The ambassador may also jump friendly units in the process, which are unaffected.

Basilisk: moves and captures like a king or knight, and immobilizes any enemy unit a knight's move away.

Battlement: moves and captures like a rook; or, moves one square orthogonally, turns at a right angle, and then moves or captures like a rook; or, moves like a rook, turns at a right angle, and then moves or captures one square orthogonally.

Chamberlain: makes a rook move of two squares optionally followed by a second rook move of one square only. It may capture on either or both parts, but it cannot return to the square from which it started the move.

Chaplain: moves one or two squares like a bishop to empty squares. All enemy units adjacent to the square to which the chaplain moves are captured.

Charger: moves like a blockable knight, but only to empty squares. All enemy units adjacent to the square to which the charger moves are captured. A blockable knight moves one square orthogonally to an empty square, followed by one square diagonally still moving away from the square of origin.

Cavalry: makes a blockable knight move optionally followed by a second blockable knight move. It may capture on either or both parts, but it cannot return to the square from which it started the move.

Citadel: moves like a rook but only to empty squares. Must stop at the first square it encounters that is adjacent to any enemy unit. All enemy units adjacent to the square to which the citadel moves are captured.

Crusader: moves like a king to empty squares. Converts enemy units by approaching them along a line of knight moves. That is, the crusader makes a knight move, and if an enemy unit is located an additional knight move away in the same direction, the enemy unit is converted into a friendly one. The crusader cannot move like a knight unless making a conversion.

Cyclops: moves and captures like a bishop and immobilizes any enemy unit a bishop's move away; it also moves without capturing one orthogonal square.

Czar: moves like a queen to empty squares; a one-square move captures all adjacent enemy units.

Diplomat: moves up to 2 like a queen to empty squares; it converts enemy units into friendly ones by approaching them; i.e., by moving directly toward then and stopping on an adjacent empty square.

Dragoon: moves one or two squares like a rook but only to empty squares. All enemy units adjacent to the square to which the dragoon moves are captured.

Envoy: moves like a range-2 queen to empty squares; a one-square orthogonal move converts all enemy units adjacent to the destination square.

Falcon: moves like a queen to empty squares; it hops to an empty square immediately beyond an enemy unit to capture that unit and all other enemy units in a continuous line with it along the direction from which the falcon came.

Gorgona: moves like a queen and cannot capture; it immobilizes all enemy units a queen's move away.

Hero: moves and captures up to 3 squares orthogonally or diagonally, and may leap pieces on intervening squares.

Inquisitor: moves like a bishop to an empty square; it captures all enemies adjacent to its destination square; it must stop on first square it reaches that has an adjacent enemy.

Juggernaut: slides up to three squares like a queen, capturing all enemy units in its path. It stops only at the player's choice or if it encounters the edge of the board or a friendly unit.

Keep: moves like a ferz or range-3 rook; captures as wazir; converts enemies by orthogonal approach. Approach means moving directly toward an enemy unit and stopping on an adjacent empty square; the enemy unit then becomes a friendly one.

Manticore: moves and captures like a rook and immobilizes any enemy unit a rook's move away.

Medusa: leaps to the first or second square orthogonally or diagonally to capture, may move like a queen when not capturing, and immobilizes all adjacent enemy units.

Minister: makes a bishop move of two squares optionally followed by a second bishop move of one square only. It may capture on either or both parts, but it cannot return to the square from which it started the move. Can also move and capture as a wazir.

Patriarch: moves like a bishop to an empty square; then turns 90 degrees and moves/captures like a bishop again. It cannot stop after a single bishop move. It can also move and capture like a wazir.

Prelate: moves and captures like a bishop; also, moves one square diagonally, turns at a right angle, and moves or captures like a bishop. May also move and capture like a wazir.

Regent: moves to empty squares like a range-2 queen but must stop at the first square that as an adjacent enemy unit. All enemy units adjacent to the destination square are captured.

Siren: moves like a range-2 queen to empty squares; converts enemy units by making a single-square move directly toward them, stopping on an empty square adjacent to the enemy unit; immobilizes adjacent enemy units.

Spy: moves as a queen; may leap along to the square immediately beyond an enemy unit, which converts the enemy unit into a friendly one. When making a conversion leap, the spy may freely leap over any and all other units on that line.

Statesman: moves like a king or dabbabarider to empty squares. A dabbabarider move causes all enemies on the opposite-colored squares along the patch to be converted into friendlies.

Sultan: moves like a blockable knight or king to empty squares; a king move converts all orthogonally adjacent enemies. A blockable knight moves one square orthogonally to an empty square, followed by one square diagonally still moving away from the square of origin.

Tower: moves like a rook to an empty square; then turns 90 degrees and moves/captures like a rook again. It cannot stop after a single rook move.

Vicar: moves like a wazir or range-3 bishop; captures as ferz; converts enemies by diagonal approach. Approach means moving directly toward an enemy unit and stopping on an adjacent empty square; the enemy unit then becomes a friendly one.

Viceroy: makes one or two consecutive king-type moves. It may capture on either or both parts but may not return to the square from which it started the move.

Organization of the ZRFs

Each ZRF filename in the NCFolder has three parts that determine the nature of the game.

Part 1:

NC64 is Nova Chess on an 8x8 board.

NC100 is Nova Chess on a 10x10 board.

Part 2:

Indicates whether the piece set is standard or extended, and indicates the number of pieces each player will have.

Part 3:

Indicates whether the pawns will be orthodox or from the extended or omni pawn sets.

A note on the graphics

I have tried to be consistent and logical with the graphics so that players, with some experience, can recognize the abilities of the pieces at a glance. Bishop, rook, knight, and queen shapes have been used for pieces that have those predominant movement and capturing patterns. For pieces in the bishop, rook, and queen family, the lower part of the piece indicates noncapturing movement and the upper part indicates capturing power. Double movers have double shapes. The prelate is a triple bishop to represent its ability to move along three adjacent diagonals, and the battlement is a wide rook to represent the same idea on ranks and files. Some pieces, like the juggernaut, falcon, patriarch, and tower have unique graphics. Certain symbols have been used for special abilities: diamonds for converters; concentric circles for immobilizers; hollow asterisks for proximators; dagger for flying-converters. Feedback is welcome.


Written by Michael Howe.
WWW page created: January 2, 2004. Modified: February 1, 2004.